A while ago, behavioral targeting was still something of an esoteric novelty. Many online advertisers and publishers were still in the earliest stages of learning the basics about what behavioral targeting was. Now, knowledge of the basic techniques and different flavors of BT has progressed dramatically. For most advertisers, the fundamental question of whether to do behavioral targeting has already been answered. Yet 2007 begins with far more questions than answers about the technique's emerging role and scope.
To start the new year off, here is a list of some of the more critical questions looming on the near-term horizon.
Will advertisers be able to leverage behavioral targeting to more seamlessly integrate search and display campaigns?
The year 2006 saw an increasing focus, particularly by Microsoft, on more tightly connecting online search history and habits with Web page browsing behavior. All signs point to intensified competition by all the major search engines to offer more innovative ways for advertisers to track search behavior as a way of enhancing display ad performance (both in response and branding metrics) across their network inventory.
Can behavioral targeting really be the key to monetizing video assets?
As the euphoria and feeding frenzy for user-generated video generated by the Google YouTube acquisition fades, 2007 begins with the sobering recognition that how to monetize all those assets remains a mystery. As pressure to deliver ROI mounts, the question of how to aggregate and profile behavioral data in the video realm promises to become all the more crucial.
Can behavioral targeting achieve greater economies of scale?
Evidence of the unique advantages of a behavioral focus on targeting users rather than pages accumulated steadily over the past year, as a widening spectrum of case studies show decisive differentials between BT and both "run of network" and contextual ads in click-throughs, conversions and other metrics. Thus far, however, scale (or more specifically, lack of scale) has been a stumbling block preventing more extensive deployment in the very large-scale campaigns top-tier advertisers would ideally like to do online. While portals and major ad networks made significant headway in 2006 in expanding behavioral targeting opportunities within their core content properties, the obvious next step is to extend the reach of behavioral targeting more widely into the "long tail." In this regard, the partnership between auto specialty network Jumpstart and ValueClick last summer may be a harbinger of what we'll likely see much more of (whether via partnerships or mergers/acquisitions) in 2007.
Can behavioral targeting operate more seamlessly across media borders?
Hype about media convergence may wax and wane, but digital channels, platforms and formats continue to proliferate. Two key and as yet unanswered questions are how consumer behavior in new media venues such as VOD and IPTV can be modeled and targeted, and, more fundamentally, how the increasingly variegated and fragmented media habits of consumers can be tracked and targeted across multiple media.
As advertisers and publishers continue to move up the BT learning curve, the coming months are sure to see plenty of attempts to definitely answer the questions above. They're also sure to usher in an unpredictable array of newer, as yet unformulated, questions.